The dissident Chinese architect behind the Beijing stadium hosting Friday’s opening ceremony of the Winter Games has scoffed at the head of the U.N. health agency, saying China should award him “a gold medal” for not asking hard questions about its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ai Weiwei, possibly China’s best-known dissident, aired criticism of Beijing’s human rights record and response to the pandemic, in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, in which he also took aim at World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Ai also accused governments of showing too much deference to China for business or political interests.
He chuckled derisively after hearing that Tedros had posted a photo on Twitter showing himself in a red-and-white “Beijing 2022” winter track suit and matching wool cap as he carried the Olympic flame during the torch relay in China.
“My God. He should get a gold medal from China because he never asked the right question,” Ai said in a video conversation. “Where is his conscience, this guy? You know, all those people who are supposed to defend the human health and give the right information, but never ask the right question and (are) always on the side of the propaganda.”
“They’re so ridiculous.”
Under Tedros, the WHO came in for severe criticism from then U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration in 2020 for its alleged missteps and excessive deference to, and praise for, China when the COVID-19 pandemic first appeared in the city of Wuhan some two years ago.
Tedros, in his tweet on Friday, wrote that he was “humbled” to participate in the torch relay.
“The Olympic Games are about hope & I wish for this flame to bring hope to people around the world that we can end #COVID19 together,” he wrote, while thanking the IOC president for the invitation.
Above all, Ai highlighted the Chinese government’s poor human rights record, saying hopes that it might have improved since Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Games have gone unfulfilled.
“I think it’s really, really unbelievable after 14 years of this — this game, same game — we turn to the same country, a country (that has) not developed an inch towards better human rights and the better freedom of speech conditions, but rather become very arrogant,” Ai said.
He said the Chinese Communist Party’s government has brainwashed fellow citizens of his homeland who “kind of show their patriotic support for the party,” and said any comments that stray from that on social media like China’s Weibo “will disappear.”
Ai also took aim at the International Olympic Committee, saying the Games means “big business for them.” He said the IOC “never protected” human rights and has shown itself to “always defend … whatever China is doing — which is a pity.”
Ai didn’t give a pass to other countries either — both those like Russia, which were represented at the highest official levels, and some Western countries which boycotted the Games or decided to stay away for reasons like COVID-19 concerns. He faulted them for a double standard.
“They very, like, softly say, ‘We are not officially attending.’ For me, that is like a joke,” Ai said. “So the West, the problem is, cannot find a better strategy, but to use that as like a smoke gun to say, ‘O.K., we’re defending those principles.’”
“But in the reality, they are not: They are business as normal,” he added. “Many countries are hypocritical.”